Medan, Indonesia: Demonstrators Against Fuel Price Rise Arrested and Tortured

Selamatkan Bumi, via Hidup Biasa, 4, Jul 2013

As the Indonesian Government made plans to reduce fuel subsidies, social resistance broke out across the archipelago, protesters fearing that the price rise would cause knock-on rises in the cost of living that would have a devastating effect on the poorest. The government has wanted to make this spending cut for several years now, but popular resistance over the years has made it very difficult to push it through. This time, however, they seem determined. One action in Medan, North Sumatra on the day the decision was taken was met with a brutal response from the police, where hundreds were injured and 87 people were arrested. Nearly three weeks later 32 people remain in police custody although it remains unclear whether they are actually being prosecuted. Neither their families nor lawyers have had any access to the people who are still arrested, most of whom were seriously hurt. Also, 17 more people, many well-known faces from the student movement, have been placed on the police wanted list as supposed intellectual masterminds of the action. Here’s the full chronology, from a participant:

On the 17th June 2013, an alliance of students and citizen’s groups called BARAK took to the streets to show their solidarity against the government’s decision to raise fuel prices.

At 10.00 am BARAK met up at the Sinar Indonesia Baru roundabout (Jalan Gatot Subroto) and listened to speeches.

After the speeches, at around 13.00, the alliance started a demonstration towards the North Sumatra Provincial Legislative Assembly, without any police accompaniment. There they met with other student groups that were also demonstrating about the fuel price rise. Because of this, BARAK decided to take the demonstration back to public spaces, first at the train station and then continuing to Jalan Perinits Medan, in front of Nommensen University, which is connected to the HKBP Batak Protestant Church.

At around 14.30, the BARAK alliance arrived in front of the Nommensen campus. However, as soon as they arrived, campus authorities shut the gates and suddenly announced a holiday.

Staying in front of the campus, BARAK once again set up an open platform where people could speak about the reasons to resist the price rise and wait for news of the decision of the House of Representatives, currently meeting in Jakarta, about the fuel price rise. Campus staff paid no attention to this action and no police were in attendance. This provoked BARAK to blockade the street and burn tyres as a symbol of their resistance – a tactic used by many other students fighting the fuel price rise. The hope was that the government would send a team to engage in dialogue, but no-one came.

Since no-one from the government had come to react to the action, at around 19.00 the citizens and students started to become more restless and burnt even more tyres. This made the people feel that there was nothing that could restrain them. However the BARAK alliance made sure that people didn’t destroy anything. The author of this chronology expresses his regret that police did not arrive at that moment to ensure that the action continued peacefully.

At around 21.30 the news came through that the House of Representatives had reached agreement to raise fuel prices. On hearing this information, crowd’s emotions took over and now uncontrollable and full of anger and frustration, they began to destroy some public facilities, although the objective soon became a branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken located in front of the university. Ironically, even though the main city police station was only 700 meters away, the police still didn’t arrive to calm the situation. It really seems as if the police deliberately let the people fall into the trap of continuing to break the law. In that way, under the pretext that crimes had occurred, the police would have a reason to brutally attack the demonstration. That was later seen when the police arrived, directly attacking the demonstrators without any warning, reminders, or orders to move, in contradiction of their standard operating procedure for dealing with demonstrations which get out of control, such as is outlined in the Indonesian Police Chief’s ordinance 7/2012. Procedurally, the police should have first of all appealed for calm. Then if that failed they should use water cannons, and then as a last resort, fire warning shots to forcibly disperse the crowd.

At around 23.00 police units arrived from the opposing direction to the traffic flow and directly started to attack by firing their guns. This made the crowd become unfocussed and try to save themselves by forcibly destroying the campus gate, and some of the people ran towards the military police office. Yet without giving any orders the police continued to shoot wildly and give chase inside the campus, damaging University property in the process.

After the brutal attack was over, the police once again formed lines at the end of Jalan Sutomo, right next to the campus and the Angkasa Hotel. At that moment the students tried to negotiate, slowly advancing towards the police line, but were greeted with abuse from the police, who shouted things like: “you dogs, you pigs, motherfuckers that resist fuel price rises”. Just as students were trying to request the police not to shoot the people, shots suddenly rang out from the crossroads, not far from the police lines. It turned out that the shots were tear gas, and after that all hell broke loose. Suddenly police with riot shields charged the people. At the same time, police on motorbikes holding rifles drove into the people from the other direction, running into them with their bikes.

The police furiously started arresting people, striking them bloodthirstily, leaving around 126 people with split heads, and also broken arms and legs, lost teeth, spitting blood and so on. They also savagely drove their motorbikes into people, which was later found out to have been the cause of broken bones.

After this second brutal attack finished, the police not daring to enter the military police compound, the police returned to their formation once more. The students once again used a loudspeaker to request that the police didn’t attack. But once again the insults started coming “screw you, who do you think you are, etc.”, and as the negotiation was in process the attack came from four directions at once, which left 87 people arrested and hundreds seriously injured. Dozens of motorbikes were lost and one was burnt. The screams from the police could be heard “kill them, keep torturing them”.

At the time of the attack, in a restaurant in Jalan Sena (next to the military police office), dozens of students and their friends as well as passers-by and people who happened to be in the restaurant were sadistically beaten and arrested by police that arrived on trail bikes. The people arrested were ordered to remove their shirts and lined up lying down on the street. After this, police from the Medan city police headquarters once again struck them with wood and iron implements, punched and kicked them. Even more sick, the police spat and urinated on the people as they lay there under arrest.

The wallets of several people were taken, supposedly to check their identity, but the wallet was never returned, or returned but the money had been stolen by police officers. The whereabouts of several motorbikes belonging to people arrested have still not emerged. Many other motorbikes were damaged from being hit with blunt heavy objects or driven into by members of the police force.

At around 02.30 am the attacks stopped and the police took away 87 people. The BARAK alliance has received information that five students were critically injured by the shootings and torture. Even when already wounded, the people were harassed by police spitting and urinating on them and continuing to hit them. One student was hit by a sharp bullet shot from close range which had pierced the door to a bathroom where people had been hiding.

As this chronology was published in Indonesian on 4th July, 47 students were believed to be still held. However news has come through as the English translation is being finished on 5th July, that 12 people were released on the evening of the 3rd. 32 people are now believed to be held.

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